In the latest in a series of light-hearted articles on his career, former radio and television commentator and nationwide after-dinner entertainer, Peter Brackley, Brighton-born and a lifelong Albion fan, talks about his commentary days on the Pro Evolution Soccer computer game, which became a huge cult hit with youngsters and even pro footballers themselves!
"It's not that often that the phone rings at 1am in the Brackley household, so when it woke me from my slumber at this unspeakable hour one winter morning, it was, as you can imagine, with some trepidation that I picked up the handset.
"Hallo?" I said.
"Is that Peter Brackley?" asked the voice the other end.
"Yes," I said,"who is this?"
"What does 'up the ante' mean?" came the reply.
"What does WHAT mean?" I retorted.
"Up the ante, what's it mean?"
An extraordinary passage of dialogue at any time, but at one-o'clock in the morning, it was downright baffling, and the explanation still haunts me to this day.
The caller, it transpired, was an avid fan of the Pro Evolution Soccer computer game, and having managed somehow to obtain my home telephone number, was apparently ringing to ask me the meaning of a phrase ‘up the ante’ I had used on the ‘commentary’ for the game he was playing at home at the time!
The conversation ended abruptly soon after those initial exchanges, and I put the whole thing down to perhaps a prank-happy work colleague playing a childish trick - and there were plenty of candidates out there, believe me!
Ally McCoist, for example, rang me once at a similarly outrageous hour to sing me happy birthday after a night on the tiles (annoying at the best of times, and even more so as it wasn't my birthday), and members of the 1986 ITV World Cup team in earthquake-threatened Mexico still rejoice in their success in conning me into a surgery visit for an "anti-tremor" jab - even the DOCTOR was in on it!
But all my meticulous inquiries, promises of forgiveness, even bribery, failed to unearth the culprit, and I am no wiser now than I was then as to the identity of the mystery caller - and more worryingly, with no clue as to how on earth he had got my home telephone number!
But, angry though it left me at the time, what it also did was to make me realise just how important this computer game was to the (mainly) young people who'd invested in it, and how seriously it was being taken!
For me, it was a day or two in a studio somewhere once a year shouting out endless and sometimes fictitious names and frivolous phrases for a computer game I would never personally see or hear.
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For the game players (including even professional footballers I discovered!), it was obviously a complete obsession. The 1am caller, for example, who could have been telephoning from China for all I knew, seemed to have lost all sense of time and proportion. His only thought was to win this game he was playing in his bedroom, whatever the hour, and for many others too, it was apparently the same infatuation.
Of those playing the Pro Evo game with my voice over, some clearly felt the commentary was all part of the fun (even starting a petition to bring me back apparently when the programme makers decided on a whole new approach and personnel a few years ago!), while for others my "description" of their efforts was obviously teeth-grinding torture.
I was blissfully unaware of this difference of opinion until my son, a regular player, showed me the feedback on the Pro Evo forums. A whole cross-section of posts could be found, but with some complaining bitterly that ‘Brackley is constantly repeating himself and slagging me off for doing something I obviously haven't done!’
"What a fantastic, rip-roaring shot at goal that was!" you would hear me say I'm told, as someone in the game tapped the ball tamely back to his own goalkeeper from ten yards. And as your team trailed 15-6 at half-time, "It's been a very, very tight contest so far, defences well on top, and with everything still to play for in the second half!"
I have tried on occasions to explain on forums that the ’commentary’ is not actually aimed at an individual game - how could I possibly be there in your living or bedroom EVERY time you switch it on? Even Martin Tyler doesn't do THAT many commentaries! Only teasing Martin!
But much of it still fell on deaf ears, so allow me, if I may, just to explain again, for all those still having nightmares over the robotic repetition, how the game was made. I think it might be done a little differently nowadays with some commentating to pictures, but when I was the voice over man a few years ago, usually with Trevor Brooking, the so-called commentary was recorded several months before the computer guys even started thinking about putting the game together.
Trevor and I weren't even necessarily in the recording studio at the same time, and neither of us saw a single frame. All we did was to record from pre-written scripts a whole series of separate words and phrases, not even whole sentences that we were hardly allowed to change! The computer would then later join the words together as the games required.
And names. I recorded literally thousands of them. British, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Japanese, Iranian, Guatemalan, Vietnamese, African - the world over. It was like a Manchester City squad list.
I would record them with different intonations, pitch and emphasis. High voice, low voice, quiet voice, loud voice, shouty voice, a Russell Brand voice, all the various options you could think of. I would read them out player by player, team by team, for hour after hour, and the computer would do the rest.
It was probably the most exhausting job I've ever done, and I genuinely had to take a break every now and again just to give my voice a breather; hard graft, especially when I did another game and the sound engineer sheepishly informed me one morning that all the previous day's recording had been accidentally wiped and I'd have to re-record it all! Still, it was fun.
Oh, and, by the way, if the chap who rang me at 1am is an Albion fan and reading this, why not get in touch again and tweet YOUR phone number? Then I'll get all the commentators to ring YOU after 1.00 am!